Looking through my photos for a theater themed photograph, I came across this one, a mystery cabinet card labeled J. K. Emmet. The slightest amount of research identified J. K. Emmet as a popular vaudevillian actor from the 1890s through the 1910s, with a more famous father Fritz and a less famous son J. K. Jr. How could I pass this up? Fritz Emmet was a famous yodeler, cited in numerous magazine articles for his songs and acting in the 1890s. J. K. was also well known, but apparently not quite as well as Fritz, as he was noted in 1912 to have sung some of his father’s yodeling songs during a one-act show entitled A South Dakota Divorce. The few references to J. K. Jr really only are that his father was more famous than he.
The photograph itself is quite interesting, to say the least. J. K. Emmet appears to be wearing wooden shoes and leather (?) gaiters of some type, a puffed sleeve blouse and possibly even bib overalls, all while strumming the guitar and looking fondly upon the young child in the center of the photo. Yes, I did compare the profile of the man to two known photos of J. K. Emmet and by the nose, it’s him. The set they are on is quite cluttered and messy, with a picnic basket, hanging coats in the background and some sort of odd mess to the left. Could this be depicting the stage of their show, whatever it may have been? Surely it was Dutch themed, which would explain the shoes, but beyond that, I have no clue what is going on there. However, it was popular at the time to stage a vignette from a current musical show and sell the photographs, much like modern trading cards. This particular card is fairly rough, and at some point had been glued into something, maybe a photo album or frame, as there is a large splotch on the back. No photographer was named. The photo is on loan from my friend Pauline and it was found among numerous other unidentified family photographs from the 19th century. Someone in her family history liked vaudeville actor J. K. Emmet, apparently.
UPDATE: Be sure to visit the comments where a site reader has posted a youtube recording of Emmet’s Cuckoo song from A South Dakota Divorce. Fabulous!!
How I would love to attend a musicale that featured yodeling! For more theater themed photos and probably some interesting stories, click the link below to Sepia Saturday!